I have been trying to understand why Genesis speaks of the woman’s desire for her husband only after the first disobedience. This requires an understanding of the justice of God in the sequence of three speeches addressed to the serpent, the woman and the man (in that order) in Gen. 3:14-19. I’m thinking this is a justice that does not merely punish but corrects; it begins a long story in which things are set right.
On thing it must set right is the relation between the man and the woman, who were created to be good for one another but have together brought themselves death, not life. Divine justice now forces each of them to find their good in the other, not in the one alone. The woman cannot bring forth children without her man, (so her desire shall be for her husband, Gen. 3:16), while the man has no future at all without his woman, whom he now realizes is “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
Both man and woman had despised the good that God had given them in the other. So now the most basic goods of life come to them only with pain, as they learn in their own bodies how valuable these goods are by how much they are willing to bear—in effect, what price they are willing to pay—in order to have these good things. Hence “in pain shall you eat” (3:17) and “in pain shall you bring forth children” (3:16). The life-giving goods of food and procreation now come to them at a steep price. But if they want life, not death, it is a price they will have to pay.
The woman’s desire for her husband thus comes at the intersection of these two themes of divine justice: she cannot have the good of procreation without her husband (the other who is to be good for her) and she cannot have it without pain (for it is a great good worth the pain).
And another great theme of divine justice intersects here as well, for the good of procreation points forward to “the woman’s seed” who will crush the head of the serpent, representing a future of human life that is permanently at enmity with death. Every human birth is a painful battle against the power of death, an act of hope that longs for Christmas, when a woman brings forth one who can defeat death itself and thus fulfill the promise of justice in God’s curse against the serpent, the death-dealing liar.
And this hope begins with Eve, “the mother of all living,” as Adam has the wisdom to name her when God has finished speaking to them. Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:19) and the tree of life in Eden represents wisdom that is no longer simply theirs for the taking. They will suffer for their wisdom, their knowledge of good and evil, but they will indeed end up learning what is good, as they eat food and bear children. Their bodies will not let them forget.
So in Adam’s wise and beautiful naming of Eve, the mother of all living, I think we should see the beginning of divine justice setting things right. The man who had blamed God for “the woman you gave to be with me” now realizes he has no future without her. God is right: it is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:16). With the woman’s seed is a hope for life that defeats death, which he could not have without her.